NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — A Republican state senator saw the travel-weary look in Chris Christie's eyes and had to give him a reminder about where he was.
"Governor," Christie recalled the senator saying as he kicked off a town hall meeting in Mount Laurel this month. "It's Thursday, and you're in New Jersey."
Since giving the keynote speech at the Republican National Convention in September, Christie has been on the move, crisscrossing the country and state campaigning for Mitt Romney and other Republican candidates looking for a dose of the tough talk Christie is known for.
Newark Mayor Cory Booker has also been hitting the road, lending support to President Barack Obama and other Democrats eager for a boost from a mayor who has 1.2 million followers on Twitter. Booker delivered the party platform speech at the Democratic National Convention in September.
New Jersey's most recognizable politicians are buttressing their national profile this election season, stumping for candidates eager to cash in on their growing popularity and name recognition while simultaneously earning their own political chits. The two men say they are being party loyalists and answering calls to help elect their chosen candidates.
While Booker and Christie are now appearing as surrogates, sometimes barely missing each other (they were stumping in the Seattle area within a week of each other), their competing road trips come as conjecture swirls here in New Jersey about their futures — and a potential race against one another — along with criticism that both men are more focused on travel than their day jobs.
"It's a unique opportunity," said former New Jersey Governor Thomas H. Kean, a Republican. "There aren't many people like that who get called on."
Christie, who is vice chairman of the Republican Governor's Association, was out of New Jersey 17 days from Sept. 1 to Oct. 19. He visited 16 states and Washington, D.C., and stumped for Senate candidate Joe Kyrillos in New Jersey, according to a schedule provided by the New Jersey Republican State Committee.
"We're going to be working on my calendar and want to make sure that you know I go out there and I support the people that I need to support as vice chairman of the Republican Governor's Association," Christie said at an August news conference. "That's my first priority, my most important responsibility outside of my job here."
Booker's press office did not respond to a request for his out-of-state schedule, but news reports show he has visited at least seven states since September.
Many see Booker and Christie's dueling road trips foreshadowing a race between the two next year. Talk that Booker may challenge Christie in next year's gubernatorial race is running rampant.
Booker, who has said he will not make a decision about his future until after the election, has been making the political rounds in New Jersey. In August, The Associated Press reported that Booker has talked to Democratic county chairs about a potential gubernatorial run.
Even pollsters are getting into the game. A Quinnipiac University survey released Wednesday gives Christie a slight lead over Booker in a hypothetical gubernatorial race.
Christie has not said whether he will run for re-election.
"They're both very exciting top-of-the-list candidates who both have it in for each other and both have great potential nationally," said Julian E. Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. "I can't think of anything that has happened that's comparable recently, and it's from a state that doesn't typically matter in national elections."
Booker and Christie, who have a friendly relationship and made a Seinfeld parody video this year, have recently jabbed at one another, further fanning the flames. This month Christie criticized Booker for his administration's handling of state aid. The state loaned Newark $32 million last year. It ended the year with an $18 million surplus. This year Newark asked for $24 million in help; Christie gave $10 million, leaving the city with a $2 million deficit.
Booker also poked Christie, telling an audience at the Democratic National Convention that the "world wouldn't know who Christie is" if more Democrats voted in 2009.
Obama campaign spokesman Michael Czin said Booker had campaigned for the president in key states, describing him as a "proven leader and strong advocate for the president's policies."
Representatives for Romney did not respond to emails seeking comment.
Travel in general has sparked criticism from political rivals who say that Booker and Christie aren't paying enough attention to the home front.
"Instead of Green Bay or Indiana or wherever his Republican handlers are shipping him off to, how about going to Hackensack, or Millville, or Asbury Park, or any number of places in the state that need his full attention right now because people can't find work?" Democratic Senate President Steve Sweeney said in a statement.
The criticism from Democratic officials is "part of the partisan narrative and nonsense," said Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for Christie.
"He's governor 24/7, no matter where he is," Drewniak said. "And, clearly, the governor's stature has been good for New Jersey overall."
People in Newark have a complicated view of Booker's trips. He has long been criticized for spending too much time outside of the city fundraising and giving speeches and not in the neighborhoods or at events. Some say it is beneficial, but others believe it has made the struggling city feel rudderless.
"It's been a concern," said City Council President Donald Payne, Jr.
Payne, however, said he is okay with Booker traveling to help Democrats "take back Congress" and re-elect Obama.
William Perry, 63, of Newark's Central Ward, said he and his friends often discuss the fact that Booker is out of town.
"It's too often. I think it's too much. The city comes first," Perry said.